Benefits to Journaling

 “Journaling is paying attention to the inside for the purpose of living well from the inside out.”

~Lee Wise

If you have been a skeptic of journaling like me, I want to encourage you to try it. I’ve used journaling as part of my devotional times when reading my Bible, and it has been a source of growth as I apply what God is speaking to me through his word. But it’s not just a tool for spiritual development, it will also profit you intellectually while providing a wealth of benefits relationally, emotionally, and for your health too.

Journaling is the tangible action of reflection designed for deliberate learning. It helps individuals to respond with greater agility to change and growth while exploring a deeper avenue of self-awareness and social awareness.  

Many successful and famous individuals were fully aware of the importance of journaling; such as Leonardi da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, Anne Frank, Beethoven, Emilie Davis, Benjamin Franklin, Marie Currie, Lewis, and Clark, and many others. (1) (2)

  • Leonardo da Vinici has been called “the most curious man who ever lived.” He was always asking questions and thinking of new things to investigate. His notebooks are filled with musings and drawings on every conceivable subject. His tireless mind flitted from one idea to the next; on the same page of his notebook he might wax poetic on the human form, sketch a plant, start a draft of a letter, and even record his expenditures and that night’s dinner menu.
  • Thomas Edison. He started using a pocket notebook as a teenager. He carried it wherever he went and used the notebook to make observations about the natural world, jot down bits of inspiration, record the results of experiments, and draw diagrams and pictures of new ideas.
  • Mark Twain kept 40-50 pocket notebooks over four decades of his life. He often began one before embarking on a trip. He filled the notebooks with observations of people he met, thoughts on religion and politics, drawings and sketches of what he saw on his travels, potential plots for books, and even ideas for inventions (he filed 3 patents during his lifetime). Many of his entries consist of the short, witty, pithy sentences he is famous for. He felt that if he did not write such things down as they came to his mind, he would quickly forget them. He would also record little snippets in his notebooks of what had happened that day, such as what he had eaten and who he had seen.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven was a devotee of the pocket notebook and was seldom seen without one in hand or pocket. His notebook became a memorable part of his appearance, and artists who depicted him often included it in their images.
  • Emilié Davis lived in Philadelphia during the Civil War. During this period of unrest in the country, she kept a diary and recorded the events that transpired, and affected her life as a free African-American woman.  Her written account paints a vivid picture of the lives of black people during this period in history. Davis recorded her daily activities, her feelings about the Battle of Gettysburg, and what happened during the Emancipation Proclamation. Her diaries even captured the emotional landscape of the country during and after President Lincoln’s death.
  • Benjamin Franklin, (this is one of my favorites) being the singular man that he was, used his pocket notebook for a singular purpose. At the age of 20, Franklin decided to seek the lofty goal of moral perfection. In order to accomplish his goal, Franklin developed and committed himself to a personal improvement program that consisted of living 13 virtues ., and he graded himself daily. Wow, we all should desire to be the best version of ourselves with high moral character and integrity.
  • Charles Dodgson, an English writer who went by the pen name Lewis Carroll, gave the world Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He was said to have been a diarist since he was 10 years old.
  • Isaac Newton’s notebook keeping began in earnest when he arrived at Cambridge as an undergraduate. In the 17th century, students were encouraged to keep a large “commonplace book” in which they recorded all their notes and acquired knowledge. Newton’s method of inquiry was to pose a question, study and analyze all the evidence, and record his deductions in his notebooks. He had an obsession for organizing and categorizing information, and he would typically lay out his notebooks by listing the subjects he wished to study throughout the book, and then entering notes under the headings as he learned and gathered new knowledge.

As you can see there have been many successful individuals throughout history who have used journaling (pocket notebooks) to capture their thoughts in many different ways; they have chronicled their travels and adventures, shared their visions and drafted out inventions, enlisted in moral quests, and provided insight to historical events. Using a journal regularly will give you the courage to see the world differently, and challenge you to grow.

WHY JOURNAL?

  • Helps you organize your thoughts – sometimes the closet of your mind can be a mess. Your journal is a place where you can be vulnerable, and untangle the unhealthy thoughts and replace them with positive reaffirming ones.
  • It is a gift of self-discovery and a roadmap to growth. This space is a great place to chronicle areas of your life you’d like to see improvement and growth, and to address inactivity, or complacency.
  • It’s a place to dream big and create an action plan toward your goals.
  • It is a roadmap for accomplishments and a platform to learn from your failures.
  • It helps you be more intentional in your relationships – causes you to reflect on how you’re showing up at school, home, work, with family and with friends.
  • Gives you a space to reflect on habits that need to be changed, and new ones that need to be created.
  • It’s a space to self-reflect on difficult situations, conflicts, bitterness, unforgiveness, and a great place to de-stress from a tough day. Many times when you journal the difficult things, it will help you to see things you may have missed in the midst of hardship.
  • Improves communication skills.  When you journal, you learn to better express yourself and it helps you better communicate your feelings with others.
  • Keeps you from bottling up feelings or conflicts – as you put your emotions to words it helps to see things more clearly and helps you address conflict in a healthy manner.
  • Writing leads to clear thinking – which in turns, leads to clear communication.
  • It a place to reflect on God’s blessings, successes and a space to express your gratitude. Gratitude changes bad attitudes.

“Journal writing, when it becomes a ritual for transformation, is not only life-changing but life expanding.”

~ Jen Williamson

Let’s look at some other important factors that journaling has on our well-being and health. Numerous studies have shown the health benefits that come from journaling.

  • Let’s start this journey with our well-being headquarters—the brain. How does journaling impact the brain? An experimental study conducted at Michigan State University revealed that expressive writing can help our brain ‘cool down’ in the state of worrying. (3) According to a 2018 study, writing can reduce bedtime worrying and help you fall asleep faster. Those who wrote down their to-do lists and the more specific the to-do list the quicker they feel asleep.
  • A 2013 study conducted at the University of Michigan showed that journaling for 20 minutes a day lowered their depression scores significantly.
  • According to another study –  visual journaling can help decrease stress and anxiety.
  • Journaling about trauma helps your body heal 4.4 times faster because stress leads to slower healing. Patients who journaled the trauma they had experienced helped tremendously in their recovery process.
  • Journaling improves your memory. It’s proven that students who take written notes during lectures retain information better.

Where to Start

  • Buy a journal and pen you love. You can choose a blank or semi-structured journal depending on what works best for you.  
  • Determine your WHY for journaling. This will help you to journal effectively and to make it a daily habit.
  • Schedule it on your daily calendar. Allow 10-15 minutes in the morning and in the evening. Journaling in the morning will give you a clear perspective for the day and in the evening, it gives a space to reflect on the highs and lows of your day and to process any stressful situations before going to sleep. If you struggle with too many thoughts at bedtime, use journaling to help address them. Be sure to replace negative thoughts with scripture or positive affirmations. One thing that I do, is write out a scripture and I quote it over myself out loud before going to sleep. This practice will help you benefit from peaceful sleep!
  • Find a quiet spot. Put away your phone and computer. Make this time intentional, and allow this time to be interruption-free.

You may ask can I type instead of writing… you can but you lose a lot of benefits from writing.

  • Writing by hand allows your thoughts to flow easily.
  • The practice of writing can enhance the brain’s intake for processing, retaining and retrieving information. Writing by hand slows down your thoughts, boosts mindfulness and increases calm. The act of writing increases activity in parts of the brain similar to meditation. A Study found that writing about a stressful event led to more therapeutic benefits than typing about the experience. It led to greater and more honest self-disclosure.
  • Improves your learning comprehension. (5) Studies found that students who took notes on laptops did worse with conceptual questions than students who took notes by hand. 
  • Writing by hand helps with deep and critical thinking –It allows your mind to think more thoroughly over what you’re writing down. It helps expand your thoughts and form connections between ideas. It helps you see the relationship between abstract concepts and helps you solve complex problems.
  • Writing regularly keeps your mind sharp.

There’s no one size fits all for journaling – you will need to define the style that works for you. Some individuals like to use a semi-structured journal, here’s an example of one that I use… Others like to have a more open concept to write more freely.

One word of caution-don’t let journaling become a space for constant venting.  Always end by reflecting on how you can learn from the situation and how you can grow from it. If you just vent, you’ll find yourself stuck and unable to move forward.

Trigger Question to Ask Yourself When Journaling

  • What’s God speaking to me?
  • What’s going well?
  • What’s challenging, stressful?
  • How’s my attitude?
  • What needs my attention? In other words, what am I ignoring?
  • What do I need to learn and how can I grow? The goal is a better YOU!
  • What am I grateful for?  
  • Am I taking steps toward achieving my goals? If not, what’s holding me back from accomplishing my goals?
  • Am I showing up relationally?
  • Do I listen intently, do I communicate clearly, do I speak to others with respect & kindness, do I tell those who are important to me that I love them? Do I spend quality time with them or am I neglecting my relationships?
  • Am I addressing my emotions and feelings in a healthy way? Your mindset matters.

Additional Resources

  1. https://www.developgoodhabits.com/famous-journals/ – famous people who journaled.
  2. https://www.artofmanliness.com/lifestyle/gear/the-pocket-notebooks-of-20-famous-men/ – famous people who journaled.
  3. https://www.intelligentchange.com/blogs/read/benefits-of-journaling
  4. https://vanillapapers.net/2020/08/09/journaling-benefits/
  5. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-with-a-laptop/

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